Joy is different from happiness. Happiness is fleeting. Joy is innate.
I believe we have set points, but not of happiness, of joy. I know that even in moments of extreme grief I can feel joy. This week, for example, my older brother died after a 2-year battle with lung cancer. I’m not happy, but I’m filled with joy that he is released from the suffering and pain. I also believe joy is a choice. Joy is a pursuit. Joy is either a focus of your attention or not. It’s kind of like being positive, but it’s different. Let me explain.
I try to be positive in all my interactions with others. I don’t always succeed, but my efforts are aligned with “choosing the positive.” (The motto on my public speaker site, johnmcelhenney.com.) In addition to being positive-focused, I am also paying more attention to what raises my joy level and what lowers my joy level. Are there people who bring a joyful response in me? Good. Let’s hang out more with those people. Are there people who continuously cause drama or have a lowering effect on my joy? Okay, let’s limit our exposure to what they are putting out. It’s a bit selfish at first blush, but as we explore the dynamics, I think you’ll see that choosing joy is the only way to approach happiness.
The difference between Joy and Happiness
Perhaps it is semantics, but I think there is a distinct difference between joy and happiness.
Happiness is a state of being that involves a ton of factors, not all of which are in our control. Is our relationship house in order? Do we have a fulfilling love relationship? Is there enough money in the bank to give us a livelihood that feels secure and confident? Did our boss (client in my case) give us some positive feedback on the project we are so focused on? These things seem to be some of the requirements for bonafide happiness.
Joy is more about alignment and intention. Are we heading in the right direction in our lives? Have we reached out and expressed our caring and support for those in our inner circle of family and friends. Are we living in integrity with our value and spiritual aspirations? Have we spent enough time learning how to praise ourselves and our process of the journey, so we rely less on outside validations? Have we found ways to control and maintain a balance within our emotional lives? (Feel the feelings and move on.) With a certain amount of alignment, I can feel immense joy even in the middle of a family crisis. I can love and support others who are hurting and struggling without taking on their emotional burden. I can BRAVE alongside my partner who is suffering without taking on the suffering myself?
It’s a big shift, this focus on inner joy and not outer happiness. I cannot control many of the aspects of my life. I am not always happy. But, I am learning to be always joyful. There is power in right alignment with ourselves. We stop depending on others for our happiness. We learn that circumstances are not always under our control, but our approach to life’s obstacles is 100% up to us. It’s not how your life is going it’s how you are responding to the life you have at this moment. I am not exactly where I want to be right now. But I am in alignment with my goals, visions, and passions. I am living out a life of integrity. I can withstand the loss of a love relationship and the death of a close relative AND maintain a sense of inner joy.
Some of this flexibility and alignment comes from being able to separate myself from the feelings. And some of it comes from allowing everyone around me to be on their own journey. All of us have a higher power. And we are either paying attention to that calling or we are not. It is not my responsibility (and not actually possible for me) to fix you. I can make suggestions based on my own journey. I recall talking to my brother after he had been diagnosed with cancer. “You’ve got to get your support system in place, my dear brother. You’re going to need more than mom and me and our sister.” I had to let it go at that. His journey was a solo adventure between him and his higher power. And my journey was to be alongside him and support him as best I could with love, support, and absence of judgment.
The last trick, I am learning, is to lose the judgment about myself. My own self-help program has to start with me. Can I be gentle with myself when I’m having a bad day? Can I still love myself when I’m 15 pounds heavier than my “happy weight?”
I can. I am. And I am learning to be better to myself. I’m good with others. I have compassion, empathy, and support for just about any struggle my friends or family are going through. But when I look at myself and my failures, I’m often harsh and shaming. That’s my own stuff. That’s my own struggle. I am working on it. And in the meantime, I’m okay with being right where I am.
- No girlfriend
- Not at my favorite weight
- Family loss
- Challenging relationship with my teenage children
All of these things are in process. I know I am working on them with my best intentions. And for now, that’s got to be enough.
Love yourself right where you are. There’s no other place or time to be.
As a certified life coach, I’ve been helping men and women find fulfilling lives after divorce. If you’d like to chat for 30-minutes about your dating/relationship challenges, I always give the first 30-session away for free. LEARN ABOUT COACHING WITH JOHN. There are no obligations to continue. But I get excited every time I talk to someone new. I can offer new perspectives and experiences from my post-divorce journey. Most of all, I can offer hope.
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reference: Against Depression – Peter Kramer, M. D.
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